The Sky Arts Theatre Live! company of 20 actors is being formed under the artistic directorship of broadcaster and performer Sandi Toksvig, who has initiated the idea for the season and who will host and introduce the programs. The series will be broadcast live on Sky Arts 1 and Sky Arts 1 HD weekly at 9 PM beginning July 8. The company will begin rehearsals at Richmond's Orange Tree Theatre in June, giving the creative team just three weeks to not only mount a brand-new theatre production but to stage a live television program. The plays, commissioned from six highly successful authors who are making their debuts as playwrights, will be performed to a live audience in the purpose-built Sky Arts Theatre Live! studio. The programs will be introduced with footage from behind-the-scenes to the "making of" each production, charting the highs and lows of producing for stage and screen simultaneously. Following the world-premiere performance of each play, both the audience at home and in the studio will be encouraged to offer their response and reaction, adding another dimension to the traditional theatrical experience. The full creative team behind each play – actors, writer and director – will discuss the process in a live post-show discussion.
In a statement, Toksvig commented, "For the first quarter-century of British Television drama was live. Live drama has a rawness and immediacy in which anything can and did happen including on one sad occasion the death of the leading actor [Gareth Jones in Underground on Armchair Theatre in 1958]. Now Sky Arts brings back genuine 'reality' television – drama as it happens, whatever happens. Vibrant, immediate, warts and all. I started my career in live television. It has an energy that cannot be found elsewhere and I am delighted to be going back." Toksvig was last seen on the London stage when she appeared in the Old Vic's pantomime Aladdin in 2007, in which she played the narrator; Pauline Collins was also featured in that production as the Fairy Godmother, with Ian McKellen as the panto dame Widow Twankey.
The project marks the first major drama initiative for Sky Arts. According to publicity materials, "Marrying the excitement of going to the theatre, with the accessibility and audience range of television, the unique format empowers audience to engage with live drama as they would in a theatre space, whilst simultaneously providing the critique, comment and discussion forum that television offers. Each play will be shot in high definition, further enhancing the theatrical experience for the viewer." John Cassy, Channel director for Sky Arts, commented, "Sky Arts Theatre Live! is, quite simply, one of the most exciting projects we've got coming up this year... The current debate around cultural television programme will rage on, of course, but we're absolutely convinced that a project as innovative and entertaining as Sky Arts Theatre Live! proves just how committed we are at Sky Arts to ensuring that arts on TV thrives."